After the loss of NBA great Kobe Bryant, many fans gathered to mourn the passing of an icon for the game of basketball.
Losing a transcendent player, star and father like Bryant at the age of 41 cannot be measured in words, and the tributes to his life cannot do it justice. As we remember Kobe, however, we should not forget his life beyond the basketball court. In particular, Bryant’s death brings an abrupt end to his immense involvement in the business world.
Bryant was a shrewd investor. In 2014, he famously made a $6 million investment in BodyArmor Sports Drinks. Quickly after Coca-Cola invested in the company to compete with Gatorade, Bryant’s investment grew to $200 million in value.
Bryant also started a venture capital fund with investor Jeff Stibel shortly after his retirement. The fund specialized in investing in media and technology companies. Through sound investing in companies such as Dell and Epic Games, the maker of video game sensation Fortnite, the fund took off. Originally managing $100 million, it grew to $2 billion in capital as of late 2019.
Beyond making smart investments, Bryant also contributed massively to the entertainment and sports culture world.
Bryant’s most recent obsession was storytelling, specifically illuminating stories through film. To bring his stories to life, Bryant founded Bryant Studios, later renamed to Granity Studios. The company famously produced a short animated film “Dear Basketball” inspired by the letter Bryant wrote upon retirement in 2016. Bryant’s film went on to take home the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2018. For Bryant, the award recognized his efforts to move beyond the realm of professional sports and into another passion.
“As basketball players, we’re supposed to just shut up and dribble. I am glad we did a little more than that,” Bryant said in his poignant acceptance speech.
Granity Studios also helped produce Bryant’s own ESPN+ show “Detail,” in which Kobe analyzed game film of different NBA stars in an instructional but engaging manner that fans could connect with. “Detail” soon took off, drawing in retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning to take part in the program by analyzing football and taking on former MMA fighter Daniel Cormier to break down UFC action, among other famous sports figures.
Bryant even continued as a Nike ambassador after retiring, helping design retro versions of his shoes for both young and professional players to wear. According to ESPN, 102 players across the NBA wear Bryant’s retro sneakers and among Nike athletes, Bryant’s sneakers are more popular than those of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Everything Kobe touched in the business world seemed to turn to gold. His success derived from his outstanding work ethic, which he learned in his basketball career. He had a burning desire to be great at the things he spent time working for.
Back when Bryant still played in the NBA, he had his sights set on becoming an investor and approached many prominent figures in the business world to pick their brain, including billionaire Chris Sacca, founder of Lowercase Capital.
“Literally at 3 a.m. he would be on his physical therapy treadmill and call me,” Sacca told the LA Times. “His obsession with learning this stuff was so 24/7.”
Mike Repole, the founder and chairman of BodyArmor, told a story of a time he texted Bryant at 3 a.m. and got a response one minute later, realizing that Bryant was “as psychotic as [he] was.”
Bryant responded, “We wouldn’t want to be doing anything other than what we are doing. That’s where obsession comes in — when you care about something 24 hours a day.”
The sadness in all of this comes not because Kobe had a desire to make money post retirement but because he was truly passionate about his business ventures. One of the highest-paid basketball players in NBA history, Bryant’s net worth was estimated at over $680 million at retirement, meaning he had no financial need to pursue any investment after his career.
At the end of the day, Kobe deeply enjoyed being a businessman, even more so than people gave him credit for.
“I got tired of telling people I loved business as much as I did basketball because people would look at me like I had three heads. But I do,” Bryant said to ESPN back in 2017.
Everyone will remember Kobe’s first act from his playing days — the 81-point game, the five NBA championships, the Mamba Mentality. His second act in business, however, often goes unrecognized and tragically came to an end with his death last month.